Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Battlefield Medics may slow biological time to save soldiers' lives

Battlefield medics frequently only have a brief window of opportunity to treat an injury before it's fatal or causes permanent disabilities, and it's frequently so fleeting that there's not much they can do. When a Service member suffers a traumatic injury or acute infection, the time from event to first medical treatment is usually the single most significant factor in determining the outcome between saving a life or not. First responders must act as quickly as possible, first to ensure a patient’s sheer survival and then to prevent permanent disability. The Department of Defense refers to this critical, initial window of time as the “golden hour,” but in many cases the opportunity to successfully intervene may extend much less than sixty minutes, which is why the military invests so heavily in moving casualties as rapidly as possible from the battlefield to suitable medical facilities. However, due to the realities of combat, there are often hard limits to the availability of rapid medical transport and care.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is exploring an unusual solution to that problem: slow the biological processes to give medics more room to breathe. Its new Biostasis research program aims to bring cell activity to a near halt by using biochemicals that control energetics at the protein level. If animals like tardigrades and wood frogs can stabilize their cells to survive freezing and dehydration, similar techniques might offer more time to medics who want to treat wounds before a victim's vital systems break down.

DARPA knows this won't be easy. The trick is to slow down every cellular process at roughly the same rate -- you can't just pause a few while others run at full speed. You'd also have to minimize any damage when the cells return to their normal function. The Biostasis program is still very young (its first day for answering proposers' questions is March 20th), and DARPA isn't expecting too much even from complete projects: it's initially focusing on "benchtop" proofs of concept and will focus on real-world uses as the program nears its 5-year end. If it has any success, though, the program could prove to be a breakthrough for the medical field as a whole, not just in combat. Paramedics could buy themselves enough time to get a patient to hospital, and doctors could focus less on basic survival and more on full recoveries. Link to the DARPA detailed article on extending the Golden Hour

Original Article from Engadget

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